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Resonating in the OSS Spectrum

Robert Adkins,  March 15th, 2006 at 11:45 am

Open Source Software (OSS) embodies a spectrum of evolutionary forces enabling market creation and change that can reward investment in sometimes surprising ways. Furthermore, Open Source’s model of collaborative technology development can be applied to other information fields such as biological sciences, manufacturing and knowledge creation.

Open Source is not a process, just as it is not a catalog of products, nor a collection of projects. It is not even, as some might wish, a way of life.

It is life!

Perhaps more correctly stated, Open Source ‘has’ life. Open Source embodies a spectrum of evolutionary forces that is resonating through every niche and corner of the modern information world. It has a rich life of its own.

Think breadth and depth — where Open Source spreads out in a formidable spectrum of software and economic activities. Its manifestations evolve through time and this rapid increase in range and complexity in turn enables market creation and change that can reward investment in sometimes surprising ways.

“Open Source is resonating through every niche and corner of the modern information world.”

One key to appreciating the impact of Open Source is in understanding this ever-widening spectrum of activities and conditions. There is a dizzying variety and number of Open Source Software projects. There is an equally dizzying variety of Open Source licenses, which serve to channel how code can be shared. The unfettered number and variety of projects virtually guarantees that Open Source methodology will continue to produce a percentage of well adapted and highly successful software examples. What’s more, the extraordinary variety and range of activity at the meta-layers above the production of code, such as project type and licensing, guarantees that successful economic models also will continue to evolve.

Variety enables specialization which, in turn, promotes success

Consider projects. Open Source projects vary widely in form and type as well as in sophistication, maturity and health. Frequently, they interact in loosely coupled ways with other Open Source projects and activities. This can lead to symbiotic successes like Apache along with PHP.

In other circumstances, where preservation of IPR is important, tighter control of open source projects is possible. The complementary, but complex, mix of Open Source and proprietary strategies has resulted in some killer applications like Berkeley DB, QT and MySQL.

The balance between free and proprietary is constantly mutating, resulting in an ever wider spectrum of experiments utilizing both multiple licensing as well as various aggregation schemes. For example, the original dual license pioneer, SleepyCat Software, whose bold strategy of GPL and commercial licensing served as an early model for tightly coupled free and proprietary IPR, has transformed into an even more complex organism through its recent purchase by Oracle. If not smothered, SleepyCat will continue to widen the available spectrum of Open Source commercial examples. Its refinement of business models may challenge and even change the nature of the proprietary Oracle ecosystem from within.

Open Source licensing is one of the most important areas benefiting from a wide spectrum of choice. Within the legal continuum of ‘public domain,’ ‘attribution’ and ‘reciprocal’ approaches, Open Source licensing meets a variety of business needs. One size clearly does not fit all. Despite the downside of resource fragmentation engendered by different licenses, the benefit of different economic models is made possible by fine-tuning the combinatorics of collaboration. The wide spectrum of choice leads to a healthy ecosystem capable of exploiting niche advantages together with capturing global benefits.

Resonating in the social spectrum

Open Source is as much about the spectrum of social factors enabling collaborative exchanges and experiments, as it is about the technical processes, products and projects themselves. Social factors include humanitarian values in addition to market goals and software development methodologies. Proactive humanitarian values of user inclusion and knowledge sharing encourage collaboration and facilitate choice and flexibility.

The widest spectrum of choice and openness is critical for the continued success of Open Source Software. Choice and openness is important for other fields of knowledge as well. As recognized with increasing frequency, the underlying principles driving the success of Open Source can be used to benefit other information fields such as biological sciences, manufacturing and knowledge creation. Resonating sharing and choice, at wavelengths beyond the spectrum of Open Source Software, can energize all fields of human endeavor.

© Robert Adkins, Technetra. Published March 2006 in LinuxForYou magazine. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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